Native to North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Canary Islands, aloe vera is a succulent plant species that grows wild in tropical, semi-tropical, and arid climates around the world. Its leaves are thick and fleshy with little spikes, green to grey-green, and they store water in the form of a gel. When cutting a leaf, you will also see a yellow resin dripping out, which contains latex and may irritate the skin.
People have used aloe vera for thousands of years to heal and soften the skin. Nowadays, aloe vera is found in many consumer products such as beverages, skin lotions, cosmetics, toners, ointments, and gel. Due to its soothing, moisturising, and cooling properties, aloe vera is often used to treat minor burns and sunburns. Applying fresh aloe vera or purpose-made aloe vera products to your face may also help clear up acne.
Aside from its benefits to the skin, aloe vera has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, dating back as far as ancient Egypt. Taken orally, aloe vera appears to help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, as well as helping to lower cholesterol and relief heartburn. It may also aid your digestive tract and help to soothe and cure stomach ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation. Aloe vera may also promote oral health, developing aloe vera toothpaste and mouthwash as natural options for better oral hygiene and reducing plaque. Applying an aloe vera cream to anal fissures several times a day may help promote healing. Aloe vera may also have the potential to slow the spread of breast cancer, and researchers are just beginning to unlock the benefits of this versatile plant and its many by-products.
Is aloe vera cultivated in The Gambia? The answer is yes! Stichting Care for Natural set up an aloe vera plantation and manufactures various products, from aloe vera plant drinks to skin-care products. The project has developed an Aloe Vera Skin Repair and Cooling Gel, which uses the mucilage layer found right under the leaf's skin and between the skin and the gel layer, where the majority of aloe vera's medicinal properties are found in. The cooling gel is much appreciated for its effectiveness and appears to help people with eczema, psoriasis and other skin issues. Another product uniquely created by Care for Natural is the Aloe Vera and Sheabutter Face & Body Cream, which is a combination of pure aloe vera gel and high-quality shea butter.
Building on their success in healing with aloe vera, Foundation Care for Natural established the Aloe Vera Burn Centre for Children (ABCC) at the village location of Mariamakunda, where babies and children with first, second and third-degree burns are treated very successfully – free of charge. This centre is run entirely by local and European volunteers and provides treatment, training and research. The treatment involves applying freshly cut leaves onto the burn wound, relieving the pain immediately. The pain will stay away so long as the aloe vera leaf is on the wound. This can last up to three days.
The purest form of aloe vera gel is a freshly cut leaf, preferably from a mature plant, as it will contain a higher level of beneficial ingredients. You can keep a potted aloe vera plant on your window sill year-round as they are low maintenance, requiring only a little water and a sunny spot. If you prefer a more instantaneous and convenient option, choose from the many aloe vera products available on the market. Gambian-made natural aloe vera products that don't contain a whole list of additives, such as the cooling gel and body cream by Care for Natural, can be purchased at various supermarkets, TOP-SHOP at the Senegambia Beach Hotel, as well as directly from Care for Natural.